Not a great deal goes on in a chicken ‘up top’. Even when their heads are lopped off they still work. While en masse they have the potential to instil mild fear and revulsion, the odd one pecking about could almost become a family pet. I’m told they like a spot of classical music, so if a hen that appreciates Wagner and Rachmaninov can make me breakfast, she sounds like a pretty good companion to have around.
On June 29, the humble chicken will strut through the swing doors of Toronto City Hall and learn whether there will be a vote to determine if council will consider permitting residents to keep hens. It’s been a slow road to peck, but if the bill eventually passes, the sound of clucking mixed with Ride of the Valkyries might soon echo across Toronto. If it doesn’t get the nod, urban farmers will fight on and appeal I’m sure. I don’t know if Mayor Ford looks forward to visiting his coop in the morning to fill an old football helmet with freshly laid eggs, but there are plenty of us that would like the privilege.
There will, of course, be some 9-1-1 worthy mistakes in the beginning, such of those who think keeping a harem of hens is no more difficult than ranching gold fish. Some poultry will inevitably escape and run down the middle of a city street in frantic near-suicidal celebration, in much the same manner as spectator-lunatics at the Tour de France. Some foolish fowl will even try chasing people. The odd mother hen may discover a city park and think they’ve reached the Promised Land — just before a Rottweiler pounces on them.
If these peckers are going to survive in our back yards, predators must be deterred. I’m told that one trick is to collect hair from a barber and then stuff the feet of two pairs of old tights. Hang a hairball on each post of the chicken coop at ground level and this tells sneaky rustlers that you, or the three previous men who have sat in the barber’s chair before you, are lurking about. You could also try what the French have done for as long as they’ve drunk wine and shrugged their shoulders: simply build a thin ladder to an elevated coop on a pole.
There are all sorts of designer coops on the market to house your feathered friends, in case they’ve seen issues of your Dwell magazines and don’t appreciate the materials or feng shui of a traditional looking coop. An old porta-potty laid on its side with a few strategically placed drill holes and flaps might also fashion a good poultry bungalow, or for a condo coop arrangement, one could simply stack a row of metal cages along the garden fence. Whatever the digs, you’ve got to allow them out to peck and strut like convicts once a day.
If this bill does go through eventually we may one day see bales of hay strapped to the roofs of Volvos and Subarus, driven by upwardly-mobile urban farmers with chic chicken shit on their trousers. There will also be a solution for dead cars: make them into chicken apartments, with central locking, reclining seats and a glove compartment reserved for the alpha hen.
Given that the average hen pushes out 200 to 300 eggs a year if you’re lucky, a hungry family will need a pack of them. That’s a lot of chicken biscuits, or whatever they eat. I do know it is essential to rotate their plot from time to time, so they can peck at fresh rock and grits, a bit like archaeologists need to do.
If I am going to keep chickens, I’ll need some vegetables on my plate as well. With the coop, vegetable garden, maybe a rabbit or two and optional security fence and intruder light, it’s all going cost a pretty penny. But it does sounds like heaven doesn’t it? Your children frolicking in the garden with animals, and if you don’t feel like throttling and gutting, there’s a decent restaurant a stone’s throw away.
Then again, it’s far simpler to buy your eggs by the dozen, and most of your vegetables by the pound, because yuppie farming, like social drug taking, can lead to harder things. Like keeping bees and milking goats.
Coming this Thursday: the first in a series on the history of urban agriculture in Toronto.